3 secrets I learned from my 50th birthday year celebration of mammography and colonoscopy

If you live in Israel, or in many European countries, the national “begin to screen and start to worry testing” starts at 50.  That’s when many long-term big population studies have found that is the age when women’s risk of breast cancer soars, and men and women’s incidence of colon cancer rears its ugly head.

That means that now that I’ve turned 50, most ministries of health will use the “albeit, not perfect, but it’s what we’ve got so hey, gold standard of early detection of breast cancer”, the mammogram.  Or in simpler terms, an x-ray of your breast tissue.

The colonoscopy [sending a little camera up your nether regions while you’re asleep]  is used as both an early detection screening for colon cancer,  checking for the presence of polyps in one’s large intestine that can be a precursor to cancer, and curative, because hey, if you are actually there in the colon, you can just remove those nasty polyps before they can cause cancer.

Although the actual public health recommendation is to do the ‘at home’ fecal occult blood test, or the ‘check your own poop for microscopic blood spots’ test, that one is actually harder to get people to comply with.  And, it’s only diagnostic, so if that test is positive, you still need to do a colonoscopy.

So, having been in this field for almost 30 years, and having seen many screening trends come and go, I opted for the more invasive colonoscopy. Because even though it’s a pain in the butt (couldn’t resist), it has the added value of actually doing something if they find a precancerous growth.  I also have that little thing called family history hanging over my head, so I chose the deep clean of the colon, followed by a two hour procedure (start to finish and I was asleep for most of it) over my other option of a stool kit to bring home every two years.

So  I will share some secrets I learned.  Spoiler alert. They are not deep and they’re probably not even secrets but I want to share them with you anyway.

  1.  Do it.    Yeah, sounds obvious, but screening is a time investment.  1) First you have to see your primary care physician and ask for a referral  2) Then you have to call the place that performs the exam and make an appointment 3)  Depending on which kupah you have and were you live, you may also have to ask for a hitchayvut (voucher) to have this covered 4)  You usually need to wait a good few months to get the appointment 5)  The mammography doesn’t require preparation but it may mean a long wait in the office 6) Colonscopy means 1 full day of prep,  which is a  combo of fasting, taking laxatives, and being quite close to a toilet, followed by some waiting, and then getting an IV that puts you to sleep for 30 minutes.  

But I still say do it?!  Yes.  It is still worth it.  If I can find breast cancer before someone can feel a lump, I have over 90% chance of being cured and moving on with my life.  If it’s not caught, that statistic plummets.  And remember, my lifetime chance of developing breast cancer as a woman is 1 in 9.

As for colon cancer, finding something actually cancerous just in the colon means I have a 70% cure rate; anything that spreads means a 30% cure rate. 

So yeah, I’ll make that investment and take those odds.

  • Make it fun.  I asked my husband to take me to my colonoscopy.  We didn’t have a meal out afterward, and for sure not before, but we actually had some quality time.  I left my phone at home, and enjoyed time with my spouse.  I’m sure some of you are horrified, thinking, ‘that’s quality time?’ But c’mon, people.  Who are we kidding?  Our time is limited and we are overbooked, so at least if I’m going to do an invasive test, I might as well spend it with those that I love.
  • Go in with the mind- set that you will be there all day.  Just embrace the fact that if you are going to do a colonoscopy, you will have two days to dedicate to silly Netflix binging, trashy novels, or endless Instagram scrolling.  Don’t try to do something constructive with your time. Same goes for the mammography appointment.  Embrace the time suck and just roll with it.  Don’t waste your time on cranky secretaries or crowded waiting rooms.  Surrender to the wait and know that at the end of the day, you are protecting your future health and quality of life.

Hey.  Did you ever do any of these procedures?  Let me know how your experience was.  Comment  below.

1 thought on “3 secrets I learned from my 50th birthday year celebration of mammography and colonoscopy”

  1. William Kushner

    Excellent advice. A number of years ago, I saw an article in a doctor’s office with the headline,”no one should die of colon cancer. Get screened.”

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